Before Watchmen: Part III

So here’s looking at the final set of novels from the Before Watchmen franchise, created as a prequel to Alan Moore’s seminal work, Watchmen. The final books comprise of Dr. Manhattan, Moloch and Dollar Bill. Let’s start with the most interesting book in the entire series: Dr. Manhattan.

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Written by J. Michael Straczynski (who redeems himself by this book) and drawn by Adam Huges, Dr. Manhattan is an incredible short that starts with some of the most mind numbing metaphysically existential questions you’re likely to see in literature anywhere, without the dense language, if we don’t account for the fact that the arguments themselves required to asking those questions are logically quite taxing! This happens as Dr. Manhattan introspects his own nature as he observes an empty box being lowered into the ground. We later realize that it was his own burial. The plot takes us through the life of Jon Osterman as he becomes a quantum observer by mistake thereby shattering reality to fracture into a new universe every time he makes a decision throughout the timeline of the existence of his consciousness. This yields the unexpected side effect of him existing as a normal human in an alternate universe while his consciousness can travel between these universes as Dr. Manhattan. The poignancy of his depiction in both forms simultaneously is beautifully elucidated using Schrödinger’s cat.

“With my body broken down into an infinity of quantum possibilities, with each subsequent choice creating yet another possibility, another me, in the final analysis, who am I? Why am I?” – Jon Osterman

We then see Jon take us through his own alternate history where he exists as a human and how his choices in that history create separate universes. Finally having found the problem, he sets out to correct it by ensuring that he never lives the alternate normal human life so the universe can be free of his will. Having finally accomplished as much, he checks everything and realizes something is amiss as he can no longer see his own future clearly. Finally facing that problem, he goes to Veidt, being the only man in the world who can actually understand his problem, and we see the original Watchmen timeline take over from there. It can be argued that Dr. Manhattan adds nothing to Watchmen by itself but the excellence of the entire depiction and the scripting certainly make it more worthy of the Before Watchmen name more than any of the other books in the series.